They may be a bit early for the cherry blossoms, but a majority of the members of Evanston’s City Council plan to head to Washington, D.C. next month for the National League of Cities Congressional Cities conference.

As a result, the council has been forced to cancel its planned March 12 regular meeting for lack of a quorum.

It’s the first time in memory that a majority of aldermen have attended the conference.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz, in response to an inquiry from Evanston Now, said typically two or three have gone in recent years. A few years back just one alderman attended and reported back to the rest of the council.

Aldermen Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward; Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, Mark Tendam, 6th Ward, Jane Grover, 7th Ward, and Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, are on the list to go this year.

Bobkiewicz estimates the cost of the conference to the city at about $1,500 per person, including airfare, hotel and conference registration.

He notes that Grover and Braithwaite have both become members of NLC committees and affiliate organizations.  Grover has been active with groups that focus on university communities and first ring suburbs around large cities. Braithwaite now involved National Black Caucus of Local Elected Officials.

And he says interest among the aldermen has increase because of what those who have attended before have learned at the Increase in interest because of what has been learned by those who have attended in previous years both this conference and NLC annual conference in December.

He says the meeting also gives aldermen a chance to meet with federal officials on city issues.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. Can’t the city ever estimate real costs?

    Wally's – $1500 estimate looks pretty low to me,  try about $2500. per council member, if not more.  This little junket will cost us taxpayer between $12,000 to $15,000. Wallys $7,500 cost is not realistic.

    Ofcourse beyond the waste of our tax dollars, this could be a volation of the open meeting act, but who is concerned about that the Mayor or her ethnics committee?

    How many paid junkets have these council members taken recenlty at our expense?


    1. Show Your Work, Ponzi

      Care to show your work on that one, Ponzi?


      You're great at baseless speculation, but your math often comes up just as short as your spelling. Care to show just how his estimates are off base – in this case, mind you, not your usual guilt by association reasoning. You start at "They're all wasteful crooks!" and then extrapolate from there. Keep your feet on the ground, show your work and prove why his numbers are off on this one. Show us what they are paying for hotels, for their flights, for their registration, and why what they have already paid is much higher than he is reporting.

      If you don't mind.


      How many paid junkets have these council members taken recenlty at our expense?

      Is this the opening line to an ethnics committee joke?

      1. Your answer

        Go to the National League of Cities web site for your answer.

        You can figure it out – show me how you can justify Wally's number!  

        $2,500 is a reasonable estimate for the trip cost,  by the way one council member tonight told me , they eat for $6 a day – maybe you would like to comment on that one?

        I did not say they were crooks just wasting our tax dollars!

        1. Conference costs

          The conference rate is $445.  The hotel is $249/night.  Let's assume they stay 6 nights with double occupancy (not unreasonable by any rate and this assumes 2 days of preconference attendance as well as flights the day before and day after conference ).  That's $747/person for the hotel.  $1192 so far.  A quick look on Orbitz has prices around $275 for the flights.  A grand total of $1467.  Every conference I've been at has lunch provided.  Most hotels have breakfast provided (most conferences I've been to provide breakfast as well).  So, unless dinner plans are $200/night/person your estimate of $2500 is just plain wrong.

          Now that's assuming a full schedule of conference and preconference attendance.  The more likely attendance (and need for hotel) is 4 nights which brings the cost down to an estimated $1218/person. 

          As far as $6 dinner, that could be simply the per diem the city allows.  It's not as if the city is required to purchase dinner for the aldermen. 

          Can you explain your $2500 cost estimate? 

          1. Trip cost to Washington

            Youre numbers are too low – and have some misassumptions ( I looked at City expense policies ) we will use your six days Hotel costs you assume double occupany not a chance – no city policy alderpersons can have their own rooms – Using your 6 days try $1,800 – ( I am assume a hotel tax – to the $249 )

            airline at $275 I think it is closer to $400 given council members book and have no requirements to book cheaper flights other than regular class

            You missed meals – they are allowed $8 for breakfast $12 for lunch and $20 for dinner a total of $40 this is city policy – will not work in DC – a real number might be closer to $80 – but I will use the city number $240

            Cost of transportation from the airports 4 trips at $30 – $120

            And finally conference cost $445

            I get $3005 – I orginal assumed 4 days and $80 per meals $2485 ( $2500) since we do not know the days we can not estimate – it is unlikely they are all going for 2 days.

            How do the council members eat in DC?  Will they eat a crust of bread? I wonder who might be taking them out to dinner?

  2. What have attendees learned

    I am not sure what to think about this junket. Part of the story said that council members wanted to go based on what past attendees learn at the conference. I think, other than an expense report, that all attendees, including Wally, should write a travel report that details what was learned and why this was an important event. If they can't do that they should never send more than one person in the future.

    People who have attended in the past and are still working for the city should be required to do the same as the current group

    In the spirit of shared sacrifice and to save on the expenses, the two ladies can share a hotel room. The three guys should also share a room with Wally sleeping on a rollaway.

    1. Maybe they’ll be exposed to good policy?

      One problem with the council is their utter insularity. 


      Things that more progressive cities do as a matter of course to save money, attract businesses, and enhance livability are nixed by Council and are never even thought of by the staff.

      Take for example how the Transportation committee nixed bike corrals last year or all the brew-ha-ha over the Bed and Breakfast on Sheridan Road.


      In most progressive cities, these things would have been on the consent agenda.  Here NIMBY numbskulls carry the day.


      If these people go and learn something useful, I'd be happy,.

  3. Why so many?

    Exposure to how things are done in other cities is great, in principle. But this article is very vague about exactly what goes on at these conferences. Is that because no one knows?

    Can we get some clarification as to what's covered, and how attendance by numerous city officials benefits the communities that are represented? Seems like the city is claiming that Grover & Braithwaite have some unique areas of expertise that presumably somehow make their attendance beneficial to the public interest.

    But what about Wynne, Tendam and Burrus? The article suggests they're going mainly out of "interest." Is that interest mainly in making connections with other politicians in order to further their own political careers? If so, maybe they should pay for themselves, or at least split the cost.

    The city should be able to cite in what way each additional alderman attending attend will bring benefit to the city. Also agreed that it would be nice if there were some publicly accessible feedback as to what is learned at the conference.

    At academic conferences, people only get their expenses covered if they are presenting. If they just want to attend, they pay for themselves. And they share rooms with colleagues, unless they want to pay the difference for a private room (where a spouse might stay with them).

    Might be different in business, i.e., the private, for-profit sector. But the city of Evanston is hardly a high profit corporation.  There should at least be some rationale justifying the additional expense for each person who attends. Otherwise, if you just hold out a free trip with political fringe benefits as a perk, who wouldn't take advantage of the opportunity.

    Another option is to have a number of funded slots each year for aldermen to attend, and maybe rotate who goes from year to year unless there is some compelling reason for particular people to go on the city's dime.

    Lastly, the city council should be mindful not only of their fiduciary responsibility to spend taxpayer money judiciously, but also the importance of maintaining an ethical image in the public eye. If there's good reason to send so many people on the public dime, these elected officials would do well to make that clearer to the voting public.

  4. Why not Chicagoland ?

    Illinois or even Cook/Lake should have enough diverse experiences to hold as good of a conference at a substantially lowered cost.

    While D.C. is not Hawaii or California or Aspen it always surprises me how Congress and cities think they have to travel to get 'information.'  Why more than one person—don't they even trust each other to report back [do they even publish what they learned ?], why not send experts who will report back instead of politicians ?

    Anyone who has gone to conferences knows that most—even academic—are held for other purposes than 'education'—-golf, parties, networking, seeing old friends, resume builiding, job hunting.   Have those who are going done significant study of the areas to be discussed—reading academic/news, talking to local experts, etc. ?

  5. Well, isn’t that just lots of

    Well, isn't that just lots of fun for our aldermen?  A field trip to DC.  Do we have a Washington Monument they can learn to fix by visiting the one there?  Or is it to visit miniature golf courses?  How many do you suppose would go if they had to pay their own ways and expenses? 

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